Red List habitat classification > RLF - Heathland and scrub > RLF3.1e Temperate and submediterranean thorn scrub

Temperate and submediterranean thorn scrub

Quick facts

Red List habitat type code RLF3.1e
Threat status
Europe Least Concern
EU Least Concern
Relation to
Source European Red List habitat factsheet
European Red List of habitats reports
European Red List of habitats (Excel table)


This habitat is an inland scrub type of about 1.5 to 3 meter high, made up of deciduous shrubs or low trees species of the order Prunetalia, of which many have thorns and many produce berries. These scrubs occur in temperate and submediterranean lowlands and low mountains in Europe, but sometimes are found in dry and rocky localities in higher mountains. The habitat includes šibljak, a deciduous submediterranean scrub type from the Balkan, of which the plant communities are grouped in the order Fraxino orni-Cotinetalia.

The habitat occurs in forest edges and openings, as more-or-less temporary succession stages from grassland to forest, and as hedge structures in cultural landscapes. The scrub is in most cases found on dry to mesic, well-drained, relatively base-rich and poor to moderate nutrient-rich soils. In most cases it is a secondary vegetation, found in sites where Carpinion betuli, Quercion pubescenti-petraeae, Fagion sylvaticae or Aremonio-Fagion are the climax forests, but some stands may grow on more extreme, primary sites, like on shallow, rocky soils and cliffs. The habitat also may occur semi-naturally as part of a mosaic with grassland and forest in extensively grazed areas. On more acidic, nutrient-poor soils in general Rubus scrub (F3.1b) or genistoid scrub (F3.1c) is found, or rather marginally developed mantles with Frangula alnus and Sorbus aucuparia, which can be considered part of the forest habitat.

The composition of the shrub layer varies over the wide range. Most characteristic species in Central and Western Europe are Prunus spinosa, Rhamnus catharticus, Crataegus monogyna and many species of Rosa, including many apomictic species. In some cases non-thorny shrubs may dominate. Saplings of trees are common, and one or a few trees may grow out taller than the scrub formation, indicating succession towards forest. Also the herb layer varies over the range, depending on the soil type and climatic region. It consists of a combination of species from adjacent forest, grassland and tall-herb communities. Climbing herbs are a characteristic feature of this habitat, including Hedera helix, Clematis vitalba and Tamus communis.

In the warmer (submediterranean) parts of the range and on dry, calcareous and south-exposed sites in temperate regions, Prunus mahaleb, Acer monspessulanum, Ligustrum vulgare, Viburnum lantana, Cornus mas, Cotoneaster integerrimus, Cotoneaster tomentosus and Amelanchier ovalis are characteristic species, in sites where forests of the alliance Quercion pubescenti-petraeae are the climax. Some of these shrubs are also typical in šibljak, a deciduous scrubland on shallow soils in the Balkan. Šibljak is supposed to be the primary vegetation in many sites, but it has extended after clearing of forests. Other characteristic deciduous shrubs and low trees of the šibljak are Paliurus spina-christi, Fraxinus ornus, Cotinus coggygria, Syringa vulgaris and Rhamnus intermedia. On Sicily and Corsica Berberis aetnensis is a dominant species of this habitat in the supra-mediterranean mountain belts, where it forms transitions towards oromediterranean hedgehog heath (F7.4b). Berberis hispanica fills such a position in oromediterranean mountains of Spain. However, communities with Berberis cretica in Greece are included in habitat F7.3 (phrygana).

Some Mediterranean species may occur in šibljak, like the evergreen shrubs Ruscus aculeatus and Phillyrea latifolia and the climbers Smilax asper, Clematis flammula and Asparagus acutifolius, but if evergreen shrub species become co-dominant, the scrub is a form of Submediterranean pseudomaquis (habitat F5.3), of which some communities are classified in the order Fraxino orni-Cotinetalia as well. Hippophaë rhamnoides may be one of the thorny shrub species occurring in the thorn scrub habitat, but the physiognomically and ecologically distinct scrubs dominated by Hippophae rhamnoides on xeric, dry, gravelly river terraces, rarely subjected to flooding, are considered as a subset of the alluvial scrub (type F9.1).

Prunus spinosa and other characteristic species may also occur in other scrub types, like those dominated by Rubus species (type F3.1b) or Juniperus species (F3.1a). Buxus sempervirens dominated scrub is included under F5.3. In boreal and subarctic zones Salix species dominate the scrubs on similar soils, and such communities are grouped under habitat F2.3, together with subalpine scrubs. Prunus fruticosa is a shrub that may become dominant in moist grasslands on cacareous soils in the hemiboreal region. For Bulgaria relict stands of this type have been described as a separate habitat type under the Habitats Directive. The syntaxonomical position of these low scrubs is unclear, but they are not considered here as part of thorn scrub. Rubus species may be locally dominant in the habitat, but in other cases they form its own habitat (F3.1b) as a “pre-mantle” formation in front of the thorn scrubs. In more mesic sites and in oceanic regions Corylus avellana may become mono-dominant, forming its own habitat F3.1g. Thorn scrubs in dunes are described under B1.6a and B1.6b.

The habitat has its main distribution in Western and Central Europe and on the Balkan. In the Mediterranean region it is restricted to mountains, to the north the habitat reaches to South-Scandinavia. In cultural landscapes it is one of the most important habitats in terms of diversity and functioning, the latter especially for animal species which find here shelter, breeding sites and food (berries). It is also one of the habitats which increase in dry grassland and agricultural fields after abandonment.

Indicators of quality:

The following aspects may be used as parameters for good quality:

  • Diversity of scrub species
  • Presence of rare Rosa species
  • Absence of non-native species
  • Presence of berries in autumn as a food source for mammals and birds
  • Presence of flowers in spring as a nectar source for insects

Characteristic species
For full habitat description, please download the habitat factsheet.

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

The quantitative data lead to the overall conclusion of Least Concern (LC) for the EU28 and the EU28+, for the criteria relating to trends in quality and trends in quantity, even though there is an overal negative trend in quality in most of the countries. In the north-west of the range the habitat is more threatened than in the more continental and submediterranean regions.
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Least Concern -
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Least Concern -

Confidence in the assessment

Red List of habitat categories and criteria descriptions

Pressures and threats

  • Agriculture
    • Agricultural intensification
    • Agriculture activities not referred to above
  • Sylviculture, forestry
    • Forest and Plantation management & use
  • Invasive, other problematic species and genes
    • Invasive non-native species
  • Natural biotic and abiotic processes (without catastrophes)
    • Species composition change (succession)

Habitat restoration potential

The habitat can recover relatively easy (10-20 yrs), but for reaching a higher diversity of shrub species longer time periods may be required (50 yrs or more).

Trends in extent

Average current trend in quantity

Increasing Increasing
EU28 EU28+

Trends in quality

Average current trend in quality

Decreasing Decreasing
EU28 EU28+

Conservation and management needs

In a semi-natural landscape this habitat forms a succession stage between grasslands and forest that can be maintained by extensive grazing. A problem is that due to land abandonment the habitat is increasing in large parts of Europe, causing a decrease of grasslands and in a longer time succession towards forest. In the more intensive agricultural landscapes of Northwestern Europe hedges of this habitat form an important refuge and food source for animals and plants. Where hedges have been removed over large scales restoration should be considered, together with some shrub management for long-term, sustainable conservation.

List of conservation and management needs

  • Measures related to agriculture and open habitats
    • Maintaining grasslands and other open habitats


For each habitat a distribution map was produced from a wide variety of sources indicating known and potential occurrences of the habitat in 10x10 km grids within Europe. Occurrences in grid cells were given in two classes: actual distribution from relatively reliable sources (surveys, expert knowledge), and potential distribution based on models or less reliable indicators. Please download the fact sheet to see the map.

Geographic occurrence and trends

EU28 Present or presence uncertain Current area of habitat (Km2) Recent trend in quantity (last 50 years) Recent trend in quality (last 50 years)
Austria Present Unknown Decreasing Decreasing
Belgium Present Unknown - Decreasing
Bulgaria Present 9 Decreasing Decreasing
Croatia Present 207 Stable Increasing
Czech Republic Present 500 Decreasing Increasing
Denmark Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
France mainland Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Germany Present Unknown Decreasing Decreasing
Hungary Present 400 Decreasing Stable
Ireland Present 671 Unknown Decreasing
Italy mainland Present 3941 Decreasing Increasing
Sardinia Present 3941 Decreasing Increasing
Sicily Uncertain 3941 Decreasing Increasing
Lithuania Present 1 Decreasing Increasing
Luxembourg Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Netherlands Present 20 Decreasing Decreasing
Poland Present 250 Decreasing Increasing
Portugal mainland Present 16 Unknown Decreasing
Romania Present 100 Decreasing Decreasing
Slovakia Present 9 Stable Increasing
Slovenia Present 80 Stable Increasing
Spain mainland Present 1534 Decreasing Increasing
Sweden Uncertain - -
United Kingdom Present 500 Decreasing Decreasing
Corsica Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Greece (mainland and other islands) Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
EU28 + Present or presence uncertain Current area of habitat (Km2) Recent trend in quantity (last 50 years) Recent trend in quality (last 50 years)
Bosnia and Herzegovina Present 900 Decreasing Increasing
Guernsey Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Isle of Man Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Jersey Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Kaliningrad Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Kosovo Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Liechtestein Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Montenegro Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Serbia Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Switzerland Present 600 Decreasing Decreasing
Albania Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Norway Mainland Present Unknown Unknown Unknown

Extent of Occurrence, Area of Occupancy and habitat area

Extent of Occurrence (EOO) (Km2) Area of Occupancy (AOO) Current estimated Total Area Comment
EU28 5167850 2633 9200 estimated from terr. data and interpolation
EU28+ 2751 12000 estimated from terr. data and interpolation
AOO = the area occupied by a habitat measured in number of 10x10 km grid cells.
EOO = the area (km2) of the envelope around all occurrences of a habitat (calculated by a minimum convex polygon).

Characteristic species

Not available

Vegetation types

Relation to vegetation types (syntaxa)

Not available

Other classifications

Not available
European Environment Agency (EEA)
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1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100